Christmas Eve 1928 by Don O'Brien. Creative commons image on flickr2The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
We say “rules are made to be broken…” If that’s true, I will also say “signs are made to be ignored.”
Maybe it’s because signs are confusing or misleading… Maybe it’s because they’re downright wrong. But maybe we’re the problem. The truth we need is literally staring us in the face, and we take no notice of it…
This begs the question: what kind of a sign is a baby in a manger? Angels appear to the shepherds in the fields, and tell them that this is the sign that God has given the world a Savior. The heavens are torn open, a multitude of heavenly host sings praises to God—and then they disappear. The shepherds set out, and amazingly, they see what they were promised. But there was no fanfare here; just a newborn baby lying in a manger before his parents.
Go back several hundred years to the prophet Isaiah, and he speaks of the very same sign: a baby. In the Old Testament, God’s signs were earthquakes, peals of thunder and lightning, pillars of cloud and fire. But now, the sign is something that happens every single day.
So what sign do we have that Jesus is in the world? That salvation has come? Is God doing something to make our gathering here tonight anything more than a glorified birthday party?
We need to go back into the Bible and see that during the history of God’s people, usually when circumstances were at their worst, God would shatter the darkness by the birth of a baby. For Sarah and Abraham, it was Isaac. For the Israelites in Egypt, it was Moses. During the dark ages of the judges, it was Samuel. First in the New Testament is John the Baptist. And now, Jesus—lying in the cold darkness of the manger, among the stench of the animals and the shepherds, in the shadow of the evil political, social, and religious empires that would oppose him. God is a helpless and fragile little baby.
It will be another thirty years before Jesus begins his ministry and fulfills all things necessary for our salvation. In the meantime, God’s salvation will be fulfilled through the faithful obedience of Mary and Joseph; the faithful testimony of the shepherds and the Magi; and through many others we will never know about… Without them, there’d be proclamation of God’s truth; no cross, no resurrection, no Church, no new life.
So now I go back to my prior question: what sign do we have that Jesus is in the world? The answer is simple: little children. They are signs of new life from God. They are the future. But they are weak. They are vulnerable. They are completely dependent. They will be nothing apart the faithful, loving care of those of us who are not children.
For as much as we love our children and celebrate their births, the future has never been more bleak for the generations that will follow us. Will they have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, or fertile fields a stable climate for their crops? Will they have safe and effective schools that will form them into productive members of society? Right now, half of the children in our community experience food insecurity. Drugs and violence infest and streets. There’s nowhere to go for fun and recreation. Our children need families, friends, and neighbors to love and look after them. They need to feel safe. They need to eat! And—they need churches where they can learn life’s most important truths; be loved unconditionally, and know beyond the shadow of a doubt how much they matter to God. They need people like us to shepherd them to Jesus Christ.
Christmas is for children. But our celebrations tonight are little more than pointless pageantry unless we commit ourselves to nurturing and loving our children, just as Mary and Joseph did for Jesus. As the body of Christ, we are parents and shepherds to all God’s children. We become the signs of God’s loving care to our children, just as they are signs from God to us.
It’s hard to be a child right now. It’s hard to be a parent and a grandparent; a teacher; a mentor; a neighbor. But it is totally within our grasp to make life beautiful for them—and empower them to build a better world for their children. Let us do everything in our power to see to it that the generations to come will journey to Bethlehem as we do tonight, to behold God’s salvation wrapped in bands of cloth, and lying in a manger. Because: Christmas is for children.